“On the surface, Heaney’s poems are very simple. This simplicity however is deceptive, for the poems are usually most subtle and complex. ” What do you think of this response to Heaney’s poems? Heaney’s poetry may at first, initially seem simple, yet his poems do contain more complex underlying themes and ideas. Heaney has refined his poetry to such a simple state, such as in ‘Punishment’, Blackberry Picking’ and Death of a Naturalist’, that his poems are superficially simple, yet have complex, thought provoking ideas seeded deeper below.
This initial simplicity is seen in the poem ‘Punishment’, yet is deceptive, as the poem deals with many other complicated and sophisticated ideas in relation to human nature and anthropology. The poem may seem simple at first such as; “your brains exposed and darkened combs your muscles webbing and all your numbered bones” (Stanza 9) These lines indicated the straight forward almost scientific nature of the poem, through Heaneys choice of unemotive words. This simplicity is seen throughout the poem, where the reader initially could perceive the poem to solely be about the life, and appearance of a ‘bog woman’.Order now
However at a deeper level, Heaney looks at the very human society functions, both in ancient and present times. This us summed up at the end of the poem; “who would connive in civilized outrage yet understand the exact and tribal, intimate revenge” (Stanza 11) Heaney here, writes that he does not only feel empathy and sympathy towards the “little Adulteress”, but is also able to detach himself from his emotions and look at her death as a function of an ancient tribal system.
The role which the bog woman played in her society is further elaborated to the role in which she would have played in contemporary society; “When your betraying sisters, cauled in tar, wept by the railings” (Stanza 10) This comparison of the woman’s sacrificial death in the past, and in modern Ireland in the present, is a concept which is far more complex than the poem initially portrays.
Heaney recognizes that the death of the woman in the past was necessary to keep their society functioning which is seen in his choice of words “exact” “tribal” and “intimate” are the words used to describe the murder, which in no way convey a negative connotation. This is detached, anthropological view, is presented in a very simple manner through the use of shunt, concise words and stanzas as seen earlier.
Thus the poem appear simple, however very serious, sophisticated ideas are embedded within This underlying complexity of themes is also seen in the poem “Death of a Naturalist”. This poem, again may seem like a simple descriptive passage at first, however this view is deceptive. Heaney recollects his youth, when he collected ‘frog spawn’ in jars and watched the tadpoles hatch into frogs.
This is seen in “I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied specks and wait and watch until the fattening dots burst into nimble swimming tadpoles” Further on, Heaney recreates the sense of anticipation of the frogs as a child, through describing the teachings of Miss Walls, in a child like tone: The Mammy frog laid hundreds of little eggs and this was frog spawn” However, Heaney then continues to describe his shock, when he found out the frogs grew to be the gross disgusting “slime kings”, such as “Gross- bellied frogs were cocked on sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails … Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting” The way in which Heaney describes his shock of the frogs gross nature, is therefore very simplistic, as he recreates the experience of the child, through writing like the child, and using child like metaphors.
However this simplicity is superficial, as the writing style does not truly represent the theme of the poem. The main theme of the poem is that of childhood innocence, through ignorance. Heaney in the first part of the poem, describes his optimistic, yet false perception of frogs, which is strongly contrasted by the gross disgusting reality of nature.
The contrast between childhood fantasy and reality is a theme which is far more complex, than the simplistic ‘nature poem’ impression the poem initially gives. This idea of childhood innocence is further seen in the poem “Blackberry Picking” This poem is similar to that of “Death of a Naturalist” in that they both recreate childhood experiences in connection to nature. “Blackberry Picking” describes Heaneys days as a child, when he collected blackberries for the first time in August.
This anticipation of the berries is seen “It’s flesh was sweet Like thickened wine…… Then red ones inked up that hunger Sent us out with milk can, pea tins, jam pots” However after collecting the berries, they rotted; “A rat gray fungus. lutting on our cache” The optimistic anticipation of the blackberries contrasts strongly with reality, just as in eath of a Naturalist”. Therefore similarly, the simplistic, child like description in the poem is deceptive in that its ideas transcend its writing.
Furthermore Heaney describes the berries as; “Its flesh was sweet… like summers … stains open the tongue and lust” Heaney here gives the blackberries sexual implications, through likening the lusting for berries with the lust in reference to sex. However, when the berries rot, Henaey writes; “The sweet flesh would turn sour” This implies that Heaney felt he had lost some sexual innocence, through the sweet flesh of the berries, or of a woman, turning sense, as a result of the passing of time, or growing up.
This in combination with the last line; “Each year I hoped they’ deep, knew they would not” gives a sense of loss of childhood innocence just like Hopkins “Spriny and Fall” “It is blight man was born fire It is Margaret you mourn for” This loss of innocence, through the growing years results from the exposure to reality as seen in both “Blackberry Picking” and “Death of a Naturalist”. Both of these concepts are far more complex, than the impression which the poems give initially.
Thus through Heaneys poetry, he conveys complex, sophisticated issues through means of a simplification process. Through use of simplified word structure and the child like tone and imagery, Heaney presents a quite simple impression initially. However this simplicity is deceptive as beneath lies a wide range of complex ideas and issues such as childhood and sexual innocence, as well as an anthropological view of human society. This complexity is subtly integrated into the simple impression the poems initially give.